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Archive for January, 2018

The Story Of Diesel

It’s something we hear about our think about just about every day, whether we drive a diesel-powered vehicle or a petrol-powered one.  There you are, pulling up at the local bowser and you have to stop and do a quick check to make sure that you get the right one, diesel rather than petrol or vice versa.  You probably don’t stop to think about the word diesel much or the history behind it.

Most of us think that diesel engines are called diesel engines because they run on diesel. After all, a petrol engine runs on petrol (which, for you word boffins out there, is short for petroleum, which is derived from the Latin petra oleum, translated “rock oil”).  However, this isn’t the case.  We call the fuel diesel because it was what went in a diesel engine, i.e. the sort of internal combustion engine invented by Herr Rudolf Diesel back in 1893.  If you want to be picky, what we use is “diesel fuel” which we put into a diesel.

The story of the diesel engine starts back in the days of steam.  Steam power, though a major breakthrough that transformed the world and took us into the era of machines rather than relying on muscle power, was pretty inefficient.  You needed a lot of solid fuel to burn and you needed water that could be boiled to produce the steam, and you needed to build up a good head of steam to get the pressure needed to drive the locomotives, paddle steamers and machines.  Steam was really inefficient – up to 90% of the potential energy was wasted – and it was pretty bulky (think about steam trains, which need a caboose or a built-in tender to carry the fuel and water).  The hunt was on for something that could provide the same type of oomph and grunt but with less waste (and possibly less space).

In the 1890s, a young engineer named Rudolf Diesel came into the scene and started work on developing a more efficient engine. One of his earlier experiments involving a machine that used ammonia vapour caused a major explosion that nearly killed him and put him in hospital for several months. Nevertheless, in spite of the risks, Diesel carried on, and began investigating how best to use the Carnot Cycle. His interest was also sparked by the development of the internal combustion engine and the use of petroleum by fellow-German Karl Benz.

The Carnot Cycle is based on the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, which more or less state that heat is work and work is heat, and that heat won’t pass of its own accord from a cold object to a hotter object. This video gives a very catchy explanation of these laws:

The Carnot Cycle is a theoretical concept that involves heat energy coming from a furnace in one chamber to the working chamber, where the heat turns into work because heat causes gases and liquids to expand (it also causes solids to expand but not so dramatically). The remaining heat energy is soaked up by a cooling chamber.  The principle is also used in refrigerators to get the cooling effect.

Diesel’s engine was based on the work of a few other inventors before him, as is the case with a lot of handy inventions.  Diesel’s engine was the one that became most widespread and proved most popular, which is why we aren’t putting Niepce, Brayton, Stuart or Barton in our cars and trucks.  In fact, we came very close to putting Stuart in our engines, as Herbert Ackroyd Stuart patented a compression ignition engine using similar principles a couple of years before Rudolph Diesel did.

The general principle of a Diesel engine is that it uses compressed hot air (air gets hotter when it’s compressed, which is why a bicycle pump feels hot when you’ve been using it for a while) to get the fuel in the internal combustion engine going.  This is in contrast to a petrol engine (which we really ought to call an Otto engine, as it operates on the Otto Cycle rather than the Diesel Cycle), which used sparks of electricity to get the fuel and air mix going. Petrol engines compress the air-fuel mix a little bit – down to about 10% of its original size, but a diesel engine, the air is compressed a lot more tightly. More details of how it works would probably be better described in a post of its own, so we’ll save the complicated explanation for later.

Diesel fuel doesn’t need to be as refined as what goes into petrol engines, which is what makes diesel engines a bit more efficient than their equivalents that run on more refined petrol (makes you wonder why “petrolheads” are considered to be coarse and crude).  The fuel is more energy-dense and it burns more completely – and it needs less lubrication, which means less friction, which is also more efficient.

Herr Diesel’s original idea was to have his engine run on something that wasn’t this fancy petroleum stuff, which was mostly used medicinally to treat headlice at that stage.  The first prototype used petrol as we know it.  Later models used the cheap fraction that now bears his name.  Even later refinements ran on vegetable oil, with the grand idea that people could grow a source of fuel rather than mine or drill for it.  One of the great mysteries of the story of diesel is why they switched to fossil fuels when the peanut oil that Diesel raved about worked so well.  Now we’re all excited about biofuels and especially biodiesel once again…  Was there some conspiracy at work?

However, how diesel engines came to run on fossil fuels rather than plant oil is not the only mystery about Rudolf Diesel.  His death was also unexpected and mysterious.  In late 1913, this German inventor was on his way by ship to the UK for a conference.  One night, he headed off to his cabin and asked the stewards to wake him early in the morning.  However, he vanished during the night, leaving his coat neatly folded beneath a railing.  Ten days later, his body, recognisable only from the items in his pockets, was pulled from the sea.

How his body came to be found floating in the English Channel is a mystery.  Perhaps the problems with his eyesight left over from his accident with the ammonia vapour explosion and a rough sea led to an accident. Perhaps he committed suicide, as a lot of the fortune his invention had earned him had gone into shares that devalued.  Or perhaps foul play was at work. After all, in 1913, tensions were building between Diesel’s native Germany and the UK, where Diesel had planned to meet with engineers and designers for the Royal Navy.  This was the era of the Anglo-German Naval Race, where the German and British navies were in an all-out arms race to get control of the economically important North Sea.  When Diesel was making his ill-fated crossing, the Germans had the use of the more efficient diesel technology but the British had the formidable Dreadnought class of steam-powered battleships.  The arms race was officially over, as Germany had agreed to tone things down in order to placate the British – who had alliances with the two other political powers that were at loggerheads with Germany.  It’s perfectly possible that in spite of this and because of the political tension of the time, the idea of the firepower of the Dreadnought combined with the efficiency of the diesel engine was just too much for Kaiser Bill’s government…

2017 Was A Car-razy Year For Sales In Australia

Car sales people in Australia should have cause to sit back and enjoy a cold one after VFACTS said that 1,189,116 vehicles were sold in 2017. That includes record numbers for Japanese niche filler, and a brand that really should be considered mainstream, Subaru. Korea should also celebrate as Kia saw record numbers as well.

But there’s also signs of a continuing trend that’ll have some smiling and others pensive, as 2017 marks the first year that SUVs outsold the traditional passenger car. Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) Chief Executive Tony Weber said: “2017 marks the first full year in which the sales of Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) have outstripped those of passenger cars. Australians bought 465,646 SUVs during 2017 for a 39.2 per cent share of the total market, compared with 450,012 passenger cars with a 37.8 per cent share. The shift in industry dynamic we observed last year has now become entrenched in our market. It is a growth pattern that we expect will continue.”

Even light commercial vehicles saw an increase; 2017 has that category with a market share of 19.9% in 2017, up from 18.8% in 2016.

The Toyota brand will be celebrating as both brand and a Toyota badged vehicle took the number one sales position. Toyota had a 18.2% market share and the HiLux was the winner for both 2017 and in December, selling 3949 units, just ahead of Holden‘s Astra at 3533.
Mazda, Hyundai, Holden, and Mitsubishi rounded out the top five, with Kia cracking the 50,000 mark for the first time ever and seeing 54,737 cars roll out from the showroom for ninth. Subaru claimed tenth, also with a plus 50K figure at 52,511.Ford, Volkswagen, and Nissan filled the remaining places with Ford’s Ranger at 3458 just pipping Holden’s revamped Colorado on 3222. It should be noted that the Colorado had an increase of 165.6% for December 2017 over the same period the year before. On 2807 for December 2017 was the petite Mazda3, a decrease of 10.6%. It was an upswing for the next highest selling vehicle and the gong goes to Mitsubishi‘s Triton, with 25.6% and 2645 sales.

Toyota’s evergreen Corolla had a backwards step, with a minus figure of 9.8% but still saw 2641 versions find new homes in December. With local manufacturing wrapping up, Holden still managed to see the VF series 2 Commodore into 2229 homes, a slight increase of just 4.6%. A facelift and some sharp pricing for the Mitsubishi ASX, in need of an interior overhaul, take ninth with an increase of 43.4% and 2128 sales. Tenth overall in December was Mazda‘s CX5, just behind the ASX on 2113 and a mild increase of 10.9%

Kia’s Cerato was behind the push to crack the 50K mark.With an increase of just under 43%, at 18,371 sales. Big numbers for Sportage as well, with 13,448 being sold and that’s an increase of 23.1%. The baby Picanto, itself receiving an update, dominated its category with a whopping 46.5% market share, as Carnival also dominated, with virtually half of the People Mover market under $60,000 wearing the Korean badge.December 2017 saw thirty six consecutive months of growth for the Subaru brand. Leading the way was the Forester, rolling into 12,474 new homes in 2017. The Liberty wagon based Outback was a close third, on 11,340, whilst the new for mid 2017 XV had increases of 22.6% for the year and 69.9% for December, with 10,161 and 1069 sales respectively. A slight revamp for the BRZ coupe saw an increase of 137.5% for 786 sales.It was the facelifted Impreza range that snared second place for Subaru sales in 2017, with a massive increase of 151.9% over 2016 sales and 11,903 cars saying goodbye to the showroom. Both Liberty and Outback are due for updates in 2018 and Subaru have also flagged a major revamp for the Forester which will be due in the last quarter of 2018

Auto Industry News – Q4 2017

We review some of the major news events in the automotive industry from the fourth quarter of 2017.

 

Sales and Manufacturing

The war of words in the autonomous vehicle sector began to heat up, with General Motors singling out Tesla. A director for the long established auto manufacturer suggested that Tesla’s claim it has already developed ‘Level Five’ self-driving technology is “full of crap” and “irresponsible”.

Locally, Holden drew the curtains on its local manufacturing operations, with doors closing at the Elizabeth plant in South Australia.

Drive announced their ‘Car of the Year’ for 2017, with the Hyundai i30 SR taking out the top spot.

 

Safety and Environment

As the Takata airbag saga continues to drag on, and with a recall in effect following a local death, industry stakeholders have raised the possibility of cancelling vehicle registrations of motorists who have ignored recall notices. The ACCC will provide the Federal Government with a recommendation, although the consumer watchdog is still engaging with manufacturers to work on the issue.

Elsewhere, counterfeit oil filters have been discovered by Toyota and Hyundai after months of investigating. The incident continues a persistent and worrying trend, as unscrupulous rackets take advantage of independent workshops and motorists.

In Europe, the EU has sought to tackle emissions, unveiling proposals which would cut the 95g/km fleet average in 2021, to 66g/km by 2030. At the same time, governments in Holland and France (Paris) are looking at different measures to ban petrol and diesel sales by 2030 and 2040 respectively.

 

Technology

The NRMA and Electric Vehicle Council have been calling on the government to push the adoption of electric vehicles. Together, the bodies have prepared an action plan, highlighting the fact there are currently no incentives on electric vehicles.

Uniform standards for EV charging are also in focus within Australia, which could pave the way for a national approach. The measures have been proposed by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.

At a global level, Toyota has wider plans to transform its vehicle lineup to an all-electric offering by 2025. The company will partner with Mazda and Denso to work on structural technology for electric cars. The move comes as competing auto makers in China receive the hurry up from their government to boost EV production in 2019 – and as China also plans to invest heavily into autonomous driving infrastructure.

While several companies shift away from diesel engines, Mazda reaffirmed its support for the fuel technology despite governments around the world setting plans to phase out diesel powered vehicles.

Looking at the issue of emerging fuels, and Toyota is tipped to release a hydrogen fuel cell car in Australia during 2019. The news comes as tech developments leave the door open to the possibility that hydrogen powered vehicles may one day source energy from the sea.

In separate news, Mercedes has been testing autonomous tech within Australia between Sydney and Melbourne. Overseas, and the UK is aiming to have driverless cars on the road by 2021.

 

Legal and Regulatory Issues

The Australian National Transport Commission opened a can of worms, suggesting occupants of fully autonomous vehicles shouldn’t be subject to existing alcohol and drug laws. Any mooted amendments would require a change in current legislation to account for the arrival of self-driving cars within 2 years.

Following the Takata airbag saga referenced earlier, Toyota and Lexus have been nominated in a local class action among other potential defendants alleging the companies breached their consumer law obligations.

The ACCC’s final report into the new car industry has called for better protection of buyers, nominating multiple reforms and taking aim at dealers.

Finally, legislative changes led by the government include a suite of draft amendments which would see an impact on ‘grey’ and low volume import cars.

Safety and Propaganda.

The NSW government’s road safety office has saved a squidzillion on PR spin doctors over the last decade as they continue to repeat the same mind dangerous mantra of “slow down, speed kills” and have added “distractions aren’t the problem”.

Not once though has any statistical analysis shown anything more than 43% of crashes being related to excess velocity for the conditions.  According to the NSW Centre for Road Safety it was 40% in 2017. Let’s face it folks, that’s really what speeding is. Too many roads and areas are limited to what really should be a higher velocity over distance. But of course it’s due to a spurt of fatal crashes in a the space of a week or so late in 2017 that drives (no pun intended) the monotonous drone from the pollies and certain police PR people.Let’s go simple for a moment: speed doesn’t kill. If it was the underlying reason then deaths on Australian roads would be in the thousands per day. Here’s what killed people: Crash causes NSW 2017 What’s disturbingly noticeable is how high a proportion of fatalities were country roads based and on a non-straight road, followed by head on impacts.

What does kill are drivers that Simply Don’t Care. They don’t care if they pull out in front of you. They don’t care if they stop in a merging lane. They don’t care if they’re on a motorbike and will travel at twenty below a posted limit whilst shaking their head at the driver behind them. They don’t care about amber and red lights. They don’t care about having headlights on when they should. They don’t care about indicators. They don’t care about you, themselves, and they certainly don’t care about road rules. The link above shows that speed may be factor but it’s nowhere near as big as the real reason: bad driving.

Don’t laugh at this seemingly innocuous statement. You’ll hear of “cars losing control” and unless the car is fully autonomous and has a does of the HAL 9000s, it’s utterly wrong. Any decent driver training organisation will tell you, without smiling, that it’s the failure of the organic component of a car that causes crashes. Not accident. Crashes.
This is why people die on the roads. It’s stuff-all to do with excess velocity. It’s got plenty to do with attitude. It’s got plenty to do with the tunnel visioned focus of governments and road bodies that are in it to promote ONLY their way of doing things.
Speed doesn’t kill. Government refusal to see past speeding and acknowledge they’re wrong, and people that don’t care, kill.

What’s needed is a complete and utter wholesale change to how the government sees road safety. A massive rethink is needed, and, as hard as it may appear to see, a reversal of the “speed kills” policy. Back to basics. Check the standards of driver educators. Educate and inform people that the basics that are being overlooked are why higher levels of driving standards that should be followed. Mandatory driver training sessions with properly accredited groups should be paired with a minimum of ten hours.

Driving a car at any speed isn’t hard. Driving appropriately isn’t hard either. But speed doesn’t kill. Bad drivers do.